111 N.J.L.J. 481
May 12, 1983
Conflict of Interest
Municipal Court Judge, Member of
County Community College Commission
Partners of Assistant County Counsel
In Opinion 189, 93 N.J.L.J. 789 (1970) we noted the high
percentage of inquiries to this Committee that arose out of
relationships between lawyers and governmental agencies in which a
lawyer or his office associates occupied positions. We suggested
that a reference to a standard relating to the avoidance of an
appearance of wrongdoing might resolve most of these inquiries. We
have now published well over 500 opinions and the percentages of
inquiries relating to the aforesaid subject matter has not
appreciably declined. This inquiry involves two such questions.
In the first question the inquirer recognizes that a municipal court judge is expressly prohibited by terms of the Municipal Court Judge's Manual from becoming an assistant county counsel in the relevant county on grounds of actual conflict of interest. The question, however, is whether it is proper for the judge's partner to become assistant county counsel in such county. In cases where an actual conflict is perceived to exist, limitations on the practice of law by the judge extend to his associates and particularly to his partners. See R. 1:15-4, R. l:15-5(b), DR 5-105(D) and numerous prior opinions of this Committee. The suggested relationship would, therefore, clearly be inappropriate.
In the second question an attorney is a member of a County Community College Commission of the county, wherein his partner seeks to be appointed assistant county counsel. We are asked to consider the propriety of that appointment. A County Community College Commission is not, we think, a Board which is autonomous in the sense that a Type II elected Board of Education is autonomous. Opinion 376, 100 N.J.L.J. 698 (1977). The Board of Chosen Freeholders of the county to whom the assistant county counsel renders legal advice and assistance has a significant role to play in both the appointment of members of the County Community College Commission, N.J.S.A. 18A:64A-32, and the funding of its activities, N.J.S.A. 18A:64A-36. The inherent conflict is, therefore, apparent, rendering the proposed appointment inappropriate. See Opinions 106, 90 N.J.L.J. 497 (1967), 192, 94 N.J.L.J. 44 (1971), 390, 101 N.J.L.J. 183 (1978) and 436, 104 N.J.L.J. 401 (1979) relating to the applicability of the principles governing municipal attorneys and agencies to questions involving county attorneys and agencies.